|Foreword to Mastering Business in Korea: A Practical Guide|
(earlier edition of Doing Business in Korea: An Expanded Guide)
This book is written with the expatriate business professional in mind. Korea is reputed to be a tough place to do business, but much of that reputation is unfair. Well-meaning and experienced foreign businesspeople routinely make serious errors that ultimately impede their success in the world’s eleventh strongest economy. This is the first such book written in collaboration by a Korean and a Westerner – both of whom have built their careers in international business between Asia and the West. The authors do not pretend doing good Korean business is easy – but it can be much easier than how many foreign businesspeople go about their business. This book is a result of many interviews with both seasoned expatriate executives and highly experienced Korean managers and directors. The reader will discover both opinions and objective observations. As such, it reflects the international business community in Korea – and not simply the perspectives of a Korean and an American.
South Korea is in a state of flux. Given these modern times, one may say that about many countries. But, Korea is probably more so than most – and it has come a much further distance than most countries in the past half century.
From virtual to actual dictatorships and on to being one of the strongest democracies in Asia, the Republic of Korea has a political track record that is in direct competition with it literal rise to riches from the ashes of a devastating war. In the process, the Korean people are not longer recipients but donors of foreign aid. With, at times, ostentatious displays of wealth, comes a deep political struggle from being the government’s people to having a government of the people. Today there are stronger human and civil rights within South Korea than in anytime of Korea’s multi-millennia history. Coming part and parcel with democratic development, various interest groups and NGOs add a new dynamism to both the public and private sector arenas.
Korean consumers are no longer satisfied with cheap products, they demand – and get – quality. They also are more vocal about products and services in context of their rights as citizens of this republic. Stockholder and consumer rights are coming to the forefront. For example, product liability is no longer a subject studied as something that is a feature of overseas, advanced economies. Such issues and concerns are now part of daily Korean life.
Not so long ago, Koreans looked enviously of what others achieved with advanced technologies. Today, Korea not only emulates but even advances beyond the most advanced nations in cutting edge application of the latest technologies – most notably in the practical integration of broadband networks into daily home and business life.
Through rapid economic growth of the recent past and now through steady progress of a mature economy, Korea holds its own as an OECD nation. Mercantile protectionism is not yet fully an issue of the past, but the Korean markets have opened considerably. Korea recognizes that its long-term growth is dependent upon being an active member of a globalize economy. At the time of this book’s writing, Korea had completed its first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Chile, with other FTAs in mid negotiations.
Koreans have often and rightly described as being “frogs in a deep well.” And yet, some ten million South Koreans travel abroad for pleasure per year. On a per capita basis, that means more South Koreans are getting out and exploring the world than their wealthier and more urbane neighbors, the Japanese.
With one of the strongest physical infrastructures in the world, the Koreans continue to improve. The recent bullet trains, the KTX, have within a year of its opening, have changed the consumer patterns of the nation. Hospitals and department stores in regional hubs are now in direct competition with the best that Seoul has to offer.
Given South Korea’s amazing modern history and how much the nation continues to dynamically grow; even Korean marketing analysts are struggling to keep pace with their nation. Even harder is their task to forecast future trends. Even more so is the case for foreign managers and executives who accept expatriate positions to work in Korean or foreign multinational organizations.
In the end, it matters not if one be a Korean or a non-Korean. Once one has grabbed the Korean tiger by its tale, it can be an amazing adventure of simply hanging on. But for those who wish to ride the tiger, this book’s authors have written this book from a combined century’s managerial experience -- from both a Korean and an American perspective. There are other, excellent books on the market dealing with narrower perspectives on doing business in Korea. There has not been a general survey book, however, on this subject for almost twenty years.
While no single volume will provide the business reader with all the answers, the authors endeavored to provide practical, street-wise knowledge one cannot readily find on the Internet and from other public information sources. Together with other aids in understanding Korean business, the authors wish the reader the best of success in doing business in Korea.
"The authors have written a superb book that is a "must read" for any foreigner doing business with Koreans or working amidst Korean colleagues. The book is full of insightful recommendations on a broad range of topics as well as practical, common sense tips useful for all expatriates. Moreover the book's insightful advice is underscored with a deep and nuanced understanding of modern Korean culture that is as invaluable as it is rare. Quite simply, this is an authoritative book that demystifies Korea and offers comprehensive advice to anyone interested in living in the country, working with or for Korean managers or doing business with Korean counterparts."
Song-Hyon Jang and Tom Coyner's book is a "must-have" for expatriates who currently conduct or have interest doing business in Korea. The book cogently presents comprehensive and authoritative advice not only regarding nuts and bolts business topics such as labor negotiations, but also on more subtle cultural topics such as business etiquette. I recommend this book as a welcome addition to the burgeoning literature helping foreigners better understand Korea's business environment.
Dr. Ku-Hyun Jung
For a foreigner, learning about Korean social and business ways can take a lifetime. Certainly after three decades here I am still discovering what I did not know I didn't know and re-learning what I misunderstood in the past. But even the smallest effort pays a dividend and with this excellent book the reader has a chance to tap into the insight of a Korean businessmen who has spent a whole career relating to foreign managers as well as of a Western consultant who has integrated himself into Korean society almost as much as it is possible for an outsider.
We, the guests in this country, will never be insiders, and so we should always recognise that the business relationship is not going to be equally balanced. But a lot of our frustrations will be eased if we understand some of the reasons, motivation, and cultural and historical background which lie behind behaviour which otherwise seems unfathomable.
I thoroughly recommend this book, not only for the newcomer to Korea but also to long-term expat residents who may think they know it all already. As they will discover, modesty is not just a virtue, it can be a very useful state of mind.
Alan Timblick, OBE
“It’s all here! This is a superb effort to help expat executives deal with the tremendous complexities of Korean business. Lots of examples and practical advice grounded in the experience of the authors and their corporate colleagues. This book will save you years on the learning curve if you really take it to heart.”
Jack G. Lewis, PhD
A great primer for all newcomers to Korea, as well as a refresher course for those of us who have spent a lot of time in Korea. The authors focus on the keys to business success in Korea – regardless of industry, business sector, or job title. The book demystifies much of the Korean business culture and practices. It is a must for anyone who wants to be successful doing business in Korea.
William (Bill) Oberlin